Retention of Staff in Social Care

By Ali Al-Mufti, Managing Director of Aria Care Home, a multi-award winning care home in Newport (www.ariacarehome.com)

Our workforce is heading towards the exit faster than we’re able to bring people in – it is the metaphoric revolving door and for the care sector it has become the pandemic after the pandemic. We all face the same problem, but we also all make the same mistake – we’re expecting someone else to provide the solution.

Social care has drastically failed to adapt to modern times. A failure that everyone – from top to bottom – must accept responsibility for, from working practices to technology and attitudes, as a sector we have been afraid to change and we’re now paying a high price for it.
As operators we’re all part of the same unique culture. We’re competitors all on the same side and while it’s a privilege to be a part of, it can also lead us to wait for others to solve the problem that we are individually more than capable of fixing ourselves. The retention of teams included.

Fortunately, there are many practical measures you can take that when combined can transform your culture. Piece-by-piece and with patience you can create an environment that reduces the daily pressures on your team, provides greater job security and promotes a healthier work-life balance. Here we’ll focus on one specific change that took us at Aria Care Home, from double digit turnover to 100% retention overnight.

In late 2021, we as a company decided to eliminate disciplinary procedures for absolutely everything up to allegations of gross misconduct. No verbal warnings, no investigations, nothing. Why? They didn’t work. Ask yourself, does someone’s performance improve after you’ve threatened them with disciplinary action? Or do they keep their head down and do just enough not to step out of line? Spoiler: it’s the latter.

Disciplinary policies are toxic to a workforce. They instil fear, create doubt and cause loss of confidence. People’s performance, wellbeing and attitude suffers at just the thought that a mistake could lead to disciplinary action.

So, what happened after we removed the policy? Remember when Dorothy left Kansas and stepped into the Emerald City for the first time? Exactly like that, from black and white to a vibrant new world filled with colour. Our team were more relaxed, more confident and – most crucially – unafraid. We didn’t just say that we need to learn from mistakes, we gave them the platform to do so in full confidence that they had our support all the way.

Almost instantly the changes were spectacular. We saw a stunning drop in every area where errors can happen, a reduction in conflict between team members, more honesty, and greater confidence.

In short, it worked. Our hope was that it would create a culture where our team were given supreme job security, total autonomy, and peace of mind.

Mistakes happen and they are also learning opportunities. They are the pinnacle of self-improvement, but to reach those levels we need an environment that nurtures people, not worries them.

I know what you’re thinking, won’t people abuse this policy? Of course. Expecting everyone to adapt to your culture shift the way you hope is fantasy, but I would fall to my knees and beg you to never become discouraged by them.

The informal working ethos is how many of the best modern companies run. They were borne in a time when the world of leadership became about protecting your team and supporting them through thick and think. Throughout the 21st century they’ve succeeded where we’ve failed – to recruit and retain the best people, and to help get the best from them. It’s time we caught up.

Throwing most of your disciplinary policies (up to gross misconduct) in the bin is only one step in that direction. It’s a step that resonates with the younger people who we so desperately need to attract to our industry. It’s a step that empowers your team today. It’s a step that many operators will be afraid to take. But I plead with you from experience – be bold, be brave as it works, and we are testament to that.

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